Address by the General Secretary of the C.C. of AKEL S.Stefanou at the event to honor the 75th anniversary of the foundation of the Cooperative Collective Manor “Onisia”
8 December 2021, “Dikomo 1974” Refugee Association, Municipality of Lakatamia, Nicosia
It is with great emotion that I accepted the invitation to address and set today’s event under our auspices. I warmly congratulate my friend Kypros Kourtellaris for the publication of his book “April 1964: the (re)occupation of Onisia”, which represents a continuation of his publishing career. The experience of the Collective Manor “Onisia” was documented and highlighted by Kypros’ efforts and research work and therefore deserves praise. I also commend and congratulate the Refugee Association “Dikomo ’74” for organising this event.
It is extremely important that the history of Cypriot peasantry, closely linked to the history of our mass organisations of the Left, is recorded so that it becomes a lively document of history, events, political and social developments which the ruling narrative and version of events consistently conceal or censor, while school textbooks do not record – even though they should.
“The land belongs to those who work it. A natural law, an unwritten law, but written in fiery letters in the consciousness of those who are struggling for bread and freedom. The serfs, the slaves, the peasants of the plains and mountains, the poor in debt are the creations and victims of an arbitrary and obscene exploitative system.”
It is as if the Collective Cooperative Manor “Onisia” sprang forth from the meaning of these verses written by the renowned left Cypriot poet Tefkros Anthias. What is certain is that it was the guiding compass and ideological concept behind its creation. So “the land would belong to those who work it”. The protagonists of the ‘Onisia’ project undertook to deforest the land, cultivate and make it fertile so that they could produce adequately. But the protagonists did not stop there. They built their own factory, their own craft to produce plaster and thus strengthen the economic base of the cooperative project.
The founders of the Cooperative Manor “Onisia”, the first such collective established in Cyprus, were people who fought in the Second World War and subsequently within the ranks of the soldier’s movement for demobilisation, under the leadership of AKEL, to avoid becoming instruments and tools following the end of the War in carrying out the criminal policy of the colonialists. The demobilisation movement is yet another glorious page in the history of our People’s Movement of the Left which we must make known to society, especially to our young generation. A prominent figure in conceiving the idea of creating the cooperative and the soul of the effort was our late comrade Christos Kourtellaris, the father of Kypros.
‘Onisia’ was the first attempt to establish rural agricultural cooperativism on a collective basis. Its creation was something truly radical for Cypriot society. With the support of the Union of Cyprus Farmers, the forerunner of our farmer’s organisation EKA, ‘Onisia’ promoted collective ownership and production as the model of cooperation in the sphere of agricultural activity. It was in ‘Onisia’ that the well-known phrase ‘Everyone for all, and all for everyone’ found expression and application. The statutes of ‘Onisia’ were used as a basis for the statutes of the other collectives and its members were sent to them to pass on their experiences of collective production and help organise them.
Whenever we review the rich history of our People’s Movement by organising a humble event we naturally all self-evidently feel honored and are in awe. Honor, because the history of the People’s Movement of the Left in Cyprus is full of innovative and radical actions that pushed the country, the working people and society forward. Actions that opened up paths, broadening working people’s horizons and fueling progress and prosperity.
The central message of this political philosophy that characterises the Cypriot Left and AKEL is timeless and relevant. The Left always looks ahead and does not hesitate to step outside the box that the ruling system and dominant perception shape. This is what the Left has historically done and this is what the Left must continue to do. I assure you all, this is what it will continue to do, indeed in a dialectical way, always measuring the given conditions, the balance of forces and the level of social consciousness in order to serve and support the working people – both manual and intellectual labour.
We will continue to be the reliable pillar of support and defender of the working people and popular strata.
We will continue to be an effective force of progress and prosperity for our society and country.
It is this political philosophy that has made AKEL the leading pioneering force in the struggles and demands of the people.
It is in this way that it has put its indelible mark on the great gains of our country and its people.
It is in this way that AKEL addressed society and was embraced by workers and the common people, becoming a mass and respected Party, with prestige and playing an important role in society, which no one can dispute.
Reviewing the history of the Left, we are in awe of the legacy we have assumed as the new leadership and which we need to honor in practice by bringing it back to where our pioneers and veterans, such as Christos Kourtellaris, had elevated it to. By standing firmly on this legacy we are moving forward again! By opening up to society, with dialectics in our thinking, with radicalism and innovation in our actions, always together and among the working people and not isolated and cut off in our shells.
It is true that over the last nine years big achievements won by the Cypriot people have been under enormous attacks launched by the neoliberal Anastasiades-DISY government. One of the greatest casualties of this attack – if not the greatest – was the closure and selling-off of the Cyprus Co-operative Bank, which was engineered by the DISY government in order to serve banking and big capital in general. Much has been said and written about this issue, so I will not go into it.
However, I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate once again our will and determination to move forward again and with concrete actions and proposals to give an impetus to the development of the cooperative economy. We must support the efforts to re-establish the cooperative credit sector, which is essential for farmers, small and medium-sized enterprises and the economically weaker sections of society, which are currently suffocating under the enormous pressure put on them by the banks, to find a refuge and support.
The task of re-establishing the Co-operative movement is certainly not an easy one, especially when we are confronting a government that is hostile to this prospect. But nothing for us has ever been easy. The point is to move forward with determination, to work methodically, with a plan and through unity, to seek allies and associates in society and in the political arena to strengthen the prospect of achieving our goals.
This is precisely what the history and tradition of the People’s Movement of the Left has taught us.
This is what its experiences have taught us, among which the experience of the establishment and operation of the ‘Onisia’ Cooperative Manor holds a prominent place.
Congratulations again to the refugee association ‘Dikomo ’74’ and to Kypros Kourtellaris.